Tara McGeehan

Tara McGeehan

President, CGI UK and Australia

Amidst the decorations and merry gatherings of the recent festive season, there was a unique event that has been captivating audiences for over a century –The Royal Institution CHRISTMAS LECTURES.

These lectures have become a cherished tradition, not just for the academic community but for families across the globe. I find these lectures a fascinating highlight of the holiday period and they always make me ponder why they are so important for inspiring adults and children alike.

The lectures have a rich history dating back to 1825, making them one of the longest-running science communication events in the world. They were initially conceived by Michael Faraday, a renowned scientist and a key figure at the Royal Institution. This longstanding tradition has become a cornerstone of science communication, showcasing the power of combining education and entertainment to convey innovations in science and technology.

One of the remarkable aspects of the lectures is their accessibility. They are broadcast on national television bringing science and innovation into living rooms across the nation, making them available to everyone. This inclusivity helps to break down barriers, reaching not only those with a keen interest in science and technology but also those who may not have considered it before.

Unlike conventional lectures, The Royal Institution CHRISTMAS LECTURES are designed to be engaging and interactive. With captivating demonstrations, live experiments, and audience participation, they transform complex scientific concepts into an entertaining and accessible format. This hands-on approach to learning sparks curiosity and encourages a love of science that extends beyond the lecture hall.

Children are particularly receptive to what these lectures offer, and the impact of such inspiration can be immeasurable, shaping the career paths and aspirations of countless individuals.

This year, the spotlight was on the cutting-edge and transformative field of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The choice of subject is a significant and fitting theme for this annual showcase as it is arguably the singularly most important and rapidly evolving technological advancement of our era.  AI has become an integral part of our daily existence and continues to evolve, influencing almost everything from advancements in science, healthcare, retail, banking, and logistics, to even gaming, arts and culture - to name a few. We live at a time when machines are beginning to understand and anticipate what we want or are likely to want. Yet there are still many myths that surround AI as a technological disruptor, myths which Michael Wooldridge set out to dispel in his lecture by giving us a guided tour of a technology rapidly shaping the world around us.

The realm of AI is clouded by misconceptions and fears and is often perceived as a complex and opaque field reserved for experts. However, the lectures provided a unique opportunity to demystify the intricacies of AI. They provided an opportunity to address common myths and provided a more nuanced understanding of the technology while dispelling fears and fostering a realistic view of AI. By doing so they encourage a more informed and confident public discourse on its applications and impact and helped to break down complex concepts into digestible and entertaining segments. By making AI accessible to a broad audience, the lectures empower viewers to grasp the fundamental principles behind this technology.

Understanding the basics of AI is not just a scientific endeavour but a means of empowering individuals to navigate an increasingly AI-driven landscape. AI is a global phenomenon with implications that transcend borders. By showcasing AI, The Royal Institution underscored the collaborative nature of technological progress. The lectures served as a reminder that understanding and harnessing AI requires a global effort, fostering a sense of shared responsibility in addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by this transformative technology.

By focusing on AI for this year's CHRISTMAS LECTURES, the organisers recognised the importance of staying at the forefront of science and technology exploration. AI is not just a technology; it's a dynamic force shaping the present and future. By bringing AI to the forefront of this venerable tradition, The lectures provided a unique opportunity to engage, educate, and inspire audiences of all ages, ensuring that the magic of science and technology continues to captivate hearts and minds over the annual holiday season and beyond. This is why I am so proud that CGI is the title partner to the CHRISTMAS LECTURES until 2025, supporting The Royal Institution in their vision that science is for everyone.

Did you see them? What did you think? If you missed them or simply want to watch them again you can. Watch the lectures on BBC iPlayer (if you're in the UK) and on YouTube (if you're outside the UK). 

I wonder what the lectures in 2024 will bring?

About this author

Tara McGeehan

Tara McGeehan

President, CGI UK and Australia

Tara McGeehan was appointed President of CGI’s UK Operations in January 2018 and Australia operations were added to her responsibilities in May 2019.   She leads a multi-national and culturally diverse team of approximately 6,000 professionals and consultants and is passionate about diversity and encouraging ...